Kiese Laymon is a sharply observant and often hilarious writer whose work confronts issues of race, gender, family, and place. His savage humor and clear-eyed perceptiveness have earned him comparisons to both Mark Twain and Ta-Nehisi Coates. Laymon is the author of a groundbreaking essay collection, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, and a novel, Long Division, which has been called “an ambitious mix of contemporary southern gothic with Murakamiesque magical realism” (Booklist).
Laymon’s skill is drawing the reader into such depths through perfectly distilled moments in time while giving an entire analysis on institutional racism, black-on-black crime, police brutality, parental love, and mental illness. He does all of this with an ear for dialect that mirrors Toni Cade Bambara’s many Hazels or Alice Walker’s Celie, and with an ability to reveal the humanity in everyone he writes about, reminiscent of Edward P. Jones’ Lost in the City.
Stacie Williams, The Rumpus
When Laymon was a contributing editor at Gawker, he wrote an essay called “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America.” This harrowing piece, which describes four incidents in which Laymon was threatened with a gun, evolved into a collection of short, lacerating essays on race, violence, celebrity, family, and creativity. How to Slowly Kill “rarely smiles” and “never relents,” writes Oscar Quine in The Independent: “what this book really does brilliantly is elucidate the depreciated nature of a life lived as a black American.” Writing for The Rumpus, Stacie Williams called How to Slowly Kill “stirring and fresh, literary but ultimately approachable.”
Laymon’s voice in How to Slowly Kill is profoundly compelling, as unignorable as it is familiar: “Though the blues impulse is present, he raps familiar, like an older brother. His pieces tend to reach a gospel crescendo, like a preacher” (The Rumpus). Recalling her first time reading Laymon’s writing, Roxane Gay reflected, “I was stunned into stillness… Then I reread the essay and was stunned into stillness again.”
Laymon’s debut novel, Long Division, combines elements of science fiction, satire, and social commentary into a book that Sam Sacks, writing in The Wall Street Journal, called “funny, astute and searching.” Sacks praised Laymon’s “satirical instincts” and concluded that Long Division is “intimately attuned to the confusion of young black Americans who live under the shadow of a history that they only gropingly understand and must try to fill in for themselves.”
In Long Division, 14-year-old City, a newly minted YouTube star, is sent to stay with family in rural Melahatchie. What happens next transgresses the boundaries of fiction and reality, present and past, as City travels through time in an effort to achieve what Alyssa Rosenberg, writing for ThinkProgress, describes as “a clearer understanding of the world he lives in–and the kind of man he wants to be in it.” Roxane Gay called Long Division “the most exciting book I’ve read all year,” while Kirkus Reviews called it “hilarious, moving and occasionally dizzying.”
Long Division was selected as one of the best books of 2013 by Buzzfeed, Salon, the Chicago Tribune, Library Journal, Guernica, The Believer, Contemporary Literature, and Mosaic Magazine. The novel was honored with the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing in 2014, and was shortlisted for a number of other awards, including The Believer Book Award, the Morning News Tournament of Books, and the Ernest J. Gaines Fiction Award. Three essays from How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America were selected for inclusion in the Best American series and The Atlantic’s best essays of 2013.
In addition to Gawker, Laymon has written for Esquire, ESPN The Magazine, NPR, Colorlines, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Ebony, Guernica, the Oxford American, Lit Hub, and many others. He was selected as a member of the Root 100 in 2013 and 2014 and the Ebony Magazine Power 100 in 2015. A graduate of Oberlin College, he holds an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. He is a Professor of English and African-American Studies at the University of Mississippi.
Laymon’s two newest books, the novel And So On and the memoir Heavy, are forthcoming from Scribner.